The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) is calling for regulations to force landlords to improve electrical safety in rented homes.
This is particularly urgent, it said, as the UK rental market is growing rapidly, with 3.28m privately rented homes in the UK – approximately an eighth of all homes.
The ESC says that while landlords are legally obliged to provide an annual gas safety certificate, there is no equivalent legal obligation for electrical installations. But its research indicates that 78% of people in the UK think there should be the same safety rules for gas and electricity.
The move is being supported by the family of Thirza Whittall, the mother of two young children, who died when an electrical fault in her rental home caused the taps on the bath to become live.
The electrical wiring in the property hadn't been tested since 1981, and the ESC says that if an electrical report – known as a Periodic Inspection Report (PIR) – had been carried out, the faults leading to the tragedy could have been rectified and her death prevented.
Her mother, Jane Andain, said: "Thirza had just moved down from Birmingham to Cornwall, which she loved, and had found work as an orthoptist in the local hospital. Everything seemed to be going perfectly. But the property she'd rented had no earthing in its wiring, and a faulty heater earthed itself through the taps on the bath instead. When Thirza ran a bath and got into it, she was electrocuted."
The elderly landlady was prosecuted by trading standards for the faulty heater and received a fine, but no further action could be taken against her for the state of the wiring in the property.
Andain said: "It is really important that the law is changed so this doesn't happen to other families. We are calling for regulations to be applied to rental properties, but everybody should think about the state of the wiring in their home, whether is is rented or privately owned."
The ESC recommends rental homes should have a PIR carried out by a registered electrician at least every five years, or on change of tenancy. It has produced a leaflet – the Tenant's Checklist – to provide tenants with essential information to help protect themselves and their families by following a few simple steps.
The leaflet explains what warning signs to look for and what essential safety checks to carry out, as well as the questions tenants need to put to their landlords.
The advice includes checking:
• that sockets, switches and light fittings are in good condition with no signs of damage such as cracking or burn marks.
• that leads and flexible cables on appliances aren't damaged or frayed.
• that any electrical appliances provided by the landlord have up to date Portable Appliance Test (PAT) stickers on them (although not a legal requirement it is recommended by the ESC).
• that the fusebox has RCD protection. This is a life-saving device that protects against electric shock and reduces the risk of electrical fires.
• for fuseboxes with a wooden back; cables coated with black rubber, lead or fabric; old, round pin sockets, light switches and sockets mounted in skirting boards; and light switches mounted on bathroom walls. All these things show that the electrics are old and the property may not have had sufficient safety checks.
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